Seminary graduate Joseph Marufu risks his own safety to care for the physical and spiritual needs of more than 30 churches in his native Zimbabwe
by Sara Kelm
Joseph Marufu* sits on a bus, five boxes of anti-malarial medication on the seat next to him. He’s been down this remote road many times before, and he knows they will be approaching a roadblock any moment now – the first of three that are normally set up along this route.
A pastor who serves more than 30 churches in the Binga and Jambezi districts of Zimbabwe, Marufu wonders what he will say to the government officials who will certainly question where he got the tablets, how he paid for them and if he is authorized to handle them. Only the answer to the final question really matters, and it’s “no” – not officially, at least.
But that doesn’t matter to Marufu. The hospitals and clinics in his ministry area desperately need this medicine, which people in the community have come to nickname “Marufu tablets.” More than half the population of Zimbabwe is at risk for malaria, especially communities located far outside larger cities, and getting authorization to handle and distribute the tablets is difficult.
Marufu himself suffers from malaria, but he still takes the bus into the city of Bulawayo to buy the tablets from Chidamoyo Christian Hospital, using money donated by American churches. So despite being unable to obtain the paperwork necessary to legally conduct his ministry, he proceeds anyway, confident that he is sanctioned by a higher power.
“I believe God has authorized me because of the great compassion I have for people suffering from malaria,” says Joseph Marufu. “I have no fear of handling and delivering the tablets because I know that the God who entrusted me with this work will surely protect me.”
The bus passes the spot where Marufu expects to see the first roadblock and keeps moving. Then it passes the second location, and the third. Miraculously, there are no roadblocks, no government officials, no one to keep him from completing his mission.
“God is always great and amazing to me!” Marufu exclaims as he finishes the story. On this day, he is in the clear, and the people who desperately need medication will get it.
A higher calling
‘I know that the God who entrusted me with this work will surely protect me.’
Marufu was raised in Binga District, not far from where he now ministers. He was born into the Tonga tribe and became a Christian at age 8. He began evangelizing with his brothers at age 14, and that year they planted a church that is still 90 members strong.
Beyond his work transporting anti-malarial medication, he is also involved in hunger relief, water work and discipleship training. Marufu has a heart for pastors and the spiritual needs of his community, as many in Zimbabwe are spiritually imprisoned by their tribal animistic beliefs. But often before he can address their spiritual needs, he must first meet their physical needs.
After studying at Zimbabwe Christian College, Marufu was a full-time pastor for 14 years before he felt “a higher calling.” He saw “a great need to biblically train lay pastors and plant churches.” A friend offered to sponsor him so he could attend George Fox Evangelical Seminary to become better equipped for this mission.
So, in 2009, Marufu, his wife and three children came to America. The transition was difficult, mostly because of the weather and the language. They were often sick and always cold. Communication was also a challenge. “Most Americans were very fast in speaking and we were slow in understanding,” recalls Marufu, who often felt uncertain of his English skills.
After a year, Marufu’s family returned to Zimbabwe to live with his brother while he continued his studies, but not before the children discovered pizza and Marufu discovered the supportive seminary community. “Joseph didn’t speak much in class, but when he did speak, others listened because of his very important words,” says Darla Samuelson, Marufu’s academic advisor during his time at the seminary.
And as his confidence, biblical knowledge and leadership skills grew, so too did his spiritual life. Marufu became a prayer warrior. “There is nothing impossible with God through faithful prayers,” he says. This has been proven time and again in his ministry.
Back home, back to work
When he returned home to Zimbabwe in 2011, enabled and emboldened with a master’s degree in spiritual formation, Marufu began to rebuild some of his ministries while creating leadership workshops and discipleship training for pastors in the area. He recognized that his community needed to be given Bibles in their own Tongan language. But just as key to his ministry were the provision of anti-malarial tablets, safe water and food. “Pastoral care should not only be expressed in words but in action, too,” he explains.
The primary area of Marufu’s ministry is located around Siadindi Village in northern Zimbabwe. There is no electricity other than the power solar panels provide, and the roads are gravel leading in and out of the village. The area is good farmland, but only when there is adequate rain. The few additional sources of water, such as boreholes, are not very reliable. “Sometimes they dry out in summer when it is very hot,” explains Marufu. “The water forms brown crystals when stored. This is because of minerals underground.”
Because of this, bio-sand filtration has become key to the community’s health. Marufu has partnered with Friendly Water for the World, which provides training on filtration, sanitation and hygiene. About 50 households now have water, including a clinic and school. “Families with filters rejoice and enjoy drinking friendly water,” reports Marufu.
He is also concerned about hunger. The Binga District receives little rainfall. Harvesting enough crops to last until the next harvest is a challenge for the community. “I was so much troubled to see God’s people going to bed with empty stomachs for several days,” says Marufu. “That made me be a beggar, asking for funds from donors to purchase [corn meal] and beans and distribute them to the hungry people.”
Marufu’s ministry has grown as he ministers to both the spiritual and physical needs of the people around him. In the last year, 141 people have been baptized as a result of food projects and crusades. While finances are tight, the Lord continues to bless him. Pastor Joseph Marufu is not afraid. After all, he has been authorized by God to do amazing works.